She had boarded the 7 two stops before the tunnel. A young woman – perhaps 25 or so – who looked ordinary to anyone without a discerning eye. In a mosaic-filled city of people of different races, colors, heights, smells and levels of cordiality, after awhile, one no longer saw each as the unique contributing to the whole.
I sensed an air of desperation surround her, like a heavy cloak that she was tired of carrying. It was evident in her crystal eyes as they darted about looking for friendly territory; a friendly face with whom she could sit and feel safe and at ease with. It was evident in the way she struggled to breathe as her chest heaved up and down and she – she – trying so hard to keep it under control.
But more than that, I sensed the palpable fear that people might notice that she was not at comfort; that she was edgy and nervous and perhaps distressed. I wondered if she boarded the train in hopes of losing this - whatever it was that she was carrying - and transport it to another place, hoping to also hide herself within this passengered cab, where many where busy planning lives and menus and having mental conversations with figments, to even notice that she existed. And I felt for her.
She eyed an empty seat next to a middle-age woman dressed in jeans and a Navajo-patterned jacket. The woman wore her naturally blonde hair to the side in a thick braid tied by a thick, leather brown string. On her face, no makeup. The only thing she wore was a smile that exuded an air of friendliness and approachability. The young woman hesitated before proceeding to sit. Why had she done this, I wondered?
She sat down. She unbuttoned her winter jacket and took off her scarf and gloves shoving them in her tote bag that was resting on the floor between her legs. She sat for awhile distracting herself by reading the advertisements on the train - I'm sure a futile attempt at stilling her overwrought mind - her legs jitterbugging the time away.
She then looked at the blonde-haired woman with the braid. Was she friendly? Would it appear odd if she struck a conversation? Would she have the nerve to initiate it? I imagined the young woman thinking these things. Finally, "Cold weather we’re having, huh?"
The blonde-haired woman reciprocated with a warm smile and responded, "Yes. Yes it is."
The train was reaching the mouth of the tunnel. I noticed the young woman's eyes flash a hint of panic that she tried to hide for fear of being found out no doubt. Her body screamed of fear, her hands taking refuge under her thighs while her body rocked, chest heaving under the weight of whatever she was carrying. Enclosed underground, I noticed her eyes close as if praying. The blonde-haired woman interrupted her thoughts, "Are you all right, Miss?"
The young woman turned to her, "What? Yes, I'm fine." She looked upset. Upset that someone had noticed her distress and she could no longer hide.
We reached our next stop in line. The doors of the train opened. The young woman stepped off dropping her scarf and gloves that had fallen from her tote in her desperation to flee.
As the doors closed I continued looking at her face. It was a face that carried the scars of a hard life within its young crevices. Away from prying eyes she at last crumpled to the floor, finally taking off the cloak that covered her distress. And it was then that I saw the tears pour freely from her eyes. It was then that I saw the pain that lived within in its full rawness.
No, this was not something birthed from a fear of trains. This was something else; something deeper, something that affected the visceral. And this young woman - sad, distressed, and in deep emotional pain -had found a conduit on which to lay the blame. And I felt for her.
A story birthed from an observation gathered many years ago. I tried to place myself in her grief and wrote what I thought someone like her might be thinking.
Photo courtesy of Courtesy of Deviant Art